One of the hardest things about learning a new language as an adult is that you are forced to sound a bit stupid. Complex articulations are reduced to blunt assessments. You are forever asking people to repeat themselves or speak more slowly. You never fully understand what’s happening. And yet, to learn, you need to meet new people and be at least slightly cool. In the course of learning French, Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish over the years, I have found that certain expressions in the new language help to bridge the gap. Here are a few.
Seven expressions that go a long way
1. I’m learning
Even if you only speak pleasantries, native speakers of the new language will often praise you for how much you’ve learned. You can sound humble and optimistic at the same time by replying, “I’m learning.” It also opens up the conversation for “Where/How/Why are you learning?” If by chance people are rude and criticize you, the expression is still handy. “Hey! I’m learning!”
2. I’m not sure
You will be asked many questions in the new language. You might not understand the questions. You might not be able to answer them very fully. But you will sound a lot smarter saying, “I’m not sure,” than widening your eyes and shaking your head.
3. What do you think?
This is especially useful for social, political, and religious conversations, which are bound to come up, even before you have the vocabulary or grammar to explain your own opinions. Combine it with, “I’m not sure,” and turn the question back to your interlocutor to sound smart, savvy, and interested.
Cunningly balanced between positive and negative, this is your go-to adjective for sounding smart. You can say it and then look to the distance, or use it to buy time as you prepare a longer description.
Use this two ways: First, to confidently agree when someone says something intelligent. Second, to ask questions in a far more eloquent way. “What exactly are we doing?” “What time exactly does the bus leave?” “How exactly can I say that?”
6. True, but…
You disagree, but you can’t put your sentences together fast enough to make a good argument. This two-word nugget of dissent just on its own indicates to your audience that you are smarter than your language level, and like other expressions here, it buys you time to mentally prepare to say more.
7. We’ll see
Even if you know nothing about the future tense, you can sound wise about the future by dropping this. It’s also handy when people are trying to convince you to do something, and you don’t want to commit.
Alright, adult language learners, have fun out there!